A picture-perfect marriage is anything but.
Mike is a successful lawyer, with a thriving practice, two happy children, and a beautiful wife, Dayne. He has a life that many would envy, but as Hollett (What I Learned from Men, 2012) shows in her second novel, a relationship can seem flawless on the surface but be a mess underneath. Problems emerge early on; even their Hawaiian honeymoon is marred by Dayne’s volatile moods. Within a few years, the relationship seriously sours. Mike works 70-hour weeks while Dayne cares for the children and the house. She expresses her resentment via verbal barbs: “I’m telling you this for your own good,” is a common refrain when she’s not berating him for being a “selfish idiot.” Mike tries to ignore the abuse, but after nearly a decade, his own unhappiness festers. His wife has become “more and more dissatisfied” and drops a bombshell shortly after their 19th anniversary. Readers won’t be surprised, but Mike is shocked. The last third of this slim, briskly paced novel deals with his attempts to rebuild his life. Hollett ably depicts the way Mike’s troubled youth with an abusive father primed him to seek out similarly troubled relationships as an adult. It’s only after suffering severe psychological distress that he can address his emotional issues. Part of this process involves developing friendships with other men, particularly Jim, who serves as a surrogate father for Mike and delivers down-home wisdom in a folksy, if occasionally grating, dialect. Happily, Mike eventually responds to this good-natured, if awkwardly rendered, coaching.
A short, thoughtful look at how words can damage as much as fists.